Walking for Weight Loss: The Ultimate Guide to Walking Off Those Pounds
Contrary to popular belief…
Walking to lose weight is possible.
In fact, it's actually relatively simple to lose one pound per week by building the walking habit.
More importantly, you can do it without following a fad diet or subjecting yourself to one of those grueling exercise programs advertised on television.
The trick to walking for weight loss is to understand two simple rules:
1. Know how many steps you need to take every day
2. Commit to this step count on a daily basis
Sounds simple, right?
Well, in this article, I will go over the 10-step plan to lose an average of one per week from walking.
Not only will we cover the science behind this form of exercise, we will also provide actionable information you can use to get started today.
Let’s get to it…
The Health Benefits of Walking for Weigh Loss
If you’re planning on starting a walking regimen to boost your overall health and to lose weight, there are probably several questions on your mind.
How many calories does walking burn? Does it put undue stress on my legs? What about shin splints? Does it really offer cardiovascular benefits?
As someone who has been a runner for a quarter century, I used to think, “Walking? Who are you kidding?” So I continued putting stress on my feet, knees, shins, and everything else below the waist by doing hard impact workouts because I didn’t fully understand the health benefits of walking.
#1. The American Heart Association recommends walking over running.
#2. Walking lowers bad cholesterol and reduces your risk for both hypertension and diabetes.
#3. The AHA and researches associated with the National Runners’ Health Study looked at more than 30,000 subjects and found that, “Medium-intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running resulted in similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and possibly coronary heart disease over the study’s six years.”
These are pretty cool reasons to start walking, right?
After all, running can inflict gigantic stresses on your legs that amount to seven times the person’s body weight. If the person weighs 150 pounds, that force is roughly half a ton. If you’re obese, the stress on your legs if you run could be multiple tons. Compare that to walking, where the maximum force on your knees is only 3.4 times your body weight. Obviously, walking is less stressful on your lower extremities than running.
How Does Walking Compare to Running with Burning Calories?
You’d probably be surprised that walking can often exceed the calories burned when running.
Let’s create a hypothetical friend named “John” who needs to lose weight because he weighs 300 pounds.
Using a running calculator, we can show that John will burn 908 calories by running at 4 mph for an hour. Because John weighs 300 pounds, the force on his legs is 2,000 pounds while running.
However, if John walks 3 mph for an hour, he burns 540 calories. The force on his legs is roughly 900 pounds.
If John decides to push his walking speed to four mph, he burns 747 calories, which is 82 percent of what he would burn running the same distance for less than half the stress on his legs.
If John just wants to stroll and “smell the roses,” he can walk 2 mph for two hours and burn 857 calories.
In all cases, walking means less discomfort and pain than running.
Does Walking to Lose Weight Cause Those Exercise “Aches and Pains?”
According to Carol Torgan, who is an exercise physiologist and a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, “The aches and pains should be minor and are simply indications that muscles are adapting to your fitness regimen.”
The big problem is with people that aren't very fit and go out and try these things; they get all excited to start a new class and the instructors don't tell them that they might get sore. To them they might feel very sore, and because they aren't familiar with it, they might worry that they've hurt themselves. Then they won't want to do it again.
American College of Sports Medicine
Dr. Brian Parr, an associate professor in the department of exercise and sports science at the University of South Carolina Aiken, agrees with her. He says, “The idea that exercise should hurt is simply wrong—muscle pain during or following exercise usually suggests an injury. However, some muscle soreness is unavoidable, especially if you are new to exercise.”
So, it’s good to be sore but not hurt.
“Why Can’t I Lose Weight with a Pill?”
I can also hear some of you inhaling sharply at the thought of any discomfort. What about diet pills or that new diet I heard about? Believe it or not, the Mayo Clinic has actually looked at this.
In an eight-week, independent study, the researchers used a popular raspberry ketone supplement versus a placebo. The 45 participants in the study who completed the entire eight-week trial reported their weight-loss results. The group receiving the supplement lost and average of 4.2 pounds during the eight weeks; the group receiving the placebo reported losing an average of 0.9 pounds during the eight weeks.
On the surface, it looks like the supplement worked and that raspberry ketones were responsible. The supplement, however, contained nearly a dozen ingredients, so it was impossible to say with any certainty that it was the raspberry ketones that were responsible for the weight loss.
Also, the length of the study was too short for the researchers to determine the long-term efficacy of the supplement with any degree of correlation. In comparison, a healthy diet without fads or supplements put together with a moderate exercise regimen will result in weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week, which would have been a loss of 4 to 8 pounds in the eight weeks of the aforementioned study.
Back to John…
Let’s go back and look at our friend “John,” who walks for an hour a day.
It’s commonly known that a pound equals 3,500 calories.
Depending on how fast he walks, John will burn between 500 and 750 calories a day. In a week, he’ll burn between 2,500 and 3,500 calories.
So, if he keeps to his 4-mph-regimen, he’ll lose a pound a week without even making any dietary changes as long as he eats no more than 2,000 calories a day.
By cutting 500 calories out of his diet daily, he’ll lose an additional pound a week.
When I think about what I used to do, I can’t imagine doing it anymore. I enjoy walking for weight loss and more importantly for the health benefits. In fact, nowadays, I like to combine both walking and running in order to maintain a balanced lifestyle that’s free from the pain often associated with the constant pounding of putting in hard miles while running.
Now, once you start walking, it’ll become a habit. All that annoying muscle soreness will slowly disappear, and you’ll be refreshed and feeling good after every walk.
If you incorporate the advice given in the following 10 step walking for weight loss plan, you can build a great walking routine that helps you lose weight and gain the health benefits that I just mentioned.
1. Talk to Your Doctor First
Although it might seem superfluous to see a doctor just to begin walking, it is always a good idea to check with your physician beforehand.
The Mayo Clinic recommends such a visit especially when you have certain pre-existing conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, or kidney disease.
Similarly, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends seeing a doctor before beginning a walking regimen if you’re 35 or older, you are significantly overweight, or you have a family history of heart disease even if you don’t have it yourself.
Additionally, a doctor will check you over to see if you develop shortness of breath with exertion, discomfort or pain in your upper body, dizziness or vertigo with exertion, or even just simple swelling of your lower extremities. Any of these must first be dealt with before you begin your walking routine.
Perhaps most important, a thorough physical examination might find something serious about which you knew nothing.
I have a friend who had finally decided to start walking to get in shape. I told him he should see his doctor before he started out, but he waved it off. After his first mile, he developed numbness in his right calf, and the skin was hot and red behind his knee. Fortunately, he knew enough to stop and go straight to the emergency room.
It turns out my friend had a deep-vein thrombosis (DVT). They gave him low molecular-weight heparin and broke up the DVT safely, but if he had ignored the pain and continued, he might have died from an embolism.
In short, don’t take chances…talk to a doctor and get medical clearance before you start to walk.
2. Get the Right Walking Equipment
To start with, walkers should have comfortable, loose-fitting workout clothes. Although cotton was the fabric of choice in times past, it’s better to have “wicking” fabrics that breathe easily and allow for moisture to pass through them. Such fabrics, which are available in many brands, also help reduce chafing in problem areas because they create less friction than cotton.
Women should also have a properly fitted sports bra, preferably made of wicking material.
If you’re going to walk when it’s cold, it’s best to remember the C.O.L.D. mnemonic device that the United States Army uses:
- Keep it Clean
- Keep it Open to avoid overheating
- Keep it Layered
- Keep it Dry
Dirt and mud hold water, which is your No. 1 enemy during cold weather. Evaporation is a cooling process, which can produce bad or even dire situations in the cold, such as frostnip or frostbite. Becoming overheated also creates excess water in the form of sweat. Layers of loose clothing create air pockets that are warmed by body heat but also breathe to reduce overheating. All of these items are to make sure you stay dry.
If you’re going to walk when it’s hot, be sure to carry sunscreen, enough water (Note: here’s a pitcher filter that I recommend that can give you a constant supply of water.) and/or electrolyte drinks to stay hydrated. Watch for signs of heat-related injury and take appropriate steps to counteract them, such as finding shade and continuing to hydrate.
After you’re “dressed for success,” you have to pick the right walking shoe. In addition to wearing the right size, you should also ask your doctor when you see him or her if you overpronate, underpronate, or neither. This video explains the differences.
It’s imperative to pick walking shoes that match your degree of pronation. Once you know whether you’re “under” or “over,” a shoe professional will be able to make a proper recommendation on which shoes you need.
In any case, it’s always a good idea to take along a spare pair of shoes and some extra socks on long walks. Your feet could swell through exertion, and it’d be far better to change shoes than to “tough it out” and wind up with blisters that’ll prevent you from walking for an extended period. Extra socks will help your feet stay dry, particularly if you combine them with a high-quality foot powder.
3. Know How Many Steps You Take Walking a Mile
There are two options when it comes to calculating the average steps per mile: You can make a “guesstimation” or you can use a step-tracking device like a pedometer.
In this article, I talked about how a two-foot stride is approximately 2,640 steps in a mile while a three-foot stride is 1,760 steps in a mile. This isn’t an exact measurement, but is enough to get started.
Now, if you want an exact recommendation, then I recommend wearing a quality pedometer. (Read this article to learn how to find the device that’s perfect for you.)
To maximize the results you get from a pedometer, I recommend following the instructions in this short video for checking the accuracy of your pedometer:
Once you’ve checked the accuracy of your pedometer, find a 400 meter track. Take a meter stick with you to the track. Remember, 1,609 meters equals 1 mile. Take the meter stick and measure 9 meters past the start line. Then, set your pedometer to zero. Walk four laps and then the extra 9 meters you measured. Now, you have the number of steps you take in a mile, and you can plan your “walking day” accordingly.
4. Find Your Baseline
To figure out the point from which you’re beginning your walking regimen, measure the number of steps you take for 2 to 3 days using your pedometer.
Don’t do anything differently from what you normally do. This average number of steps is your baseline. Using your baseline as a starting point, you will develop your regimen by gradually increasing the number of steps you take daily.
They key here is to come up with average for your baseline. So if you walk 1,000 steps on day 1, then 3,000 on day 2, and finally 2,000 on day 3, then your baseline would be 2,000 average steps.
5. Pick the “Right” Walking Weight Loss Plan
Obviously, if you haven’t done exercise of any kind for a long time, you can’t just go out and tear up the streets multiple hours a day without hurting yourself.
At the other end of the spectrum, if you’re a seasoned walker, you don’t want to take it easy unnecessarily because you’ll backslide.
There are two chief plans to follow:
Let’s call them…
- Complete Couch Potato
- Regular Exerciser
And here’s how each plan works:
The Complete Couch Potato Plan
To get off the couch and into fitness and to lose weight, check out this handy chart provided by MyFitnessPal.
Beginning with 2,000 steps on the first day, this plan has you gradually increase the steps you take daily over a period of 30 days until you’re up to 10,000 steps daily. That translates to a distance of 4 to 5 miles.
If that sounds scary, remember that you can break it up into as many as four separate sessions.
Think of it this way…
A walk to the corner store and back is probably about 500 steps. Doing the shopping inside a grocery store is probably 500 steps too. If you go shopping on a busy day, from your parking space to the grocery store is probably another 500 steps. If you cut the lawn, there’s another 500, which gives you your 2,000 without even really trying.
Now let’s go back to the calories burned data for a moment…
Using 2,000 steps as an example. That’s roughly a mile. Assuming you walk at a natural 3 mph, you walked for a total of 20 minutes during those 2,000 steps. You just burned 180 calories, which means you burn 45 calories per 500 steps.
You can already see how quickly the calorie burn will grow. If you were to pair that with just a few dietary “cut outs,” such as bread and soda, your weight loss and drive for fitness would both accelerate.
Also, it’s always good to take a rest day every seven days and just “do what you do.” Resting is part of the equation. Interestingly, you’ll probably notice that you’ll be taking more steps even on rest days. That happened to me, and it was really quite surprising.
One last thing…
Remember to stretch before and after your walking workout.
The Regular Exerciser Plan
If you’ve been at the exercise thing for a while, even if all you’ve done is complete the 30-day “don’t-be-a-couch-potato-anymore” plan, then you can begin to use 10,000 steps daily as your baseline.
Once again, we have a handy guide courtesy of MyFitnessPal to get you started:
As with the lower step numbers, you can break it up so that you don’t have to cover all five miles at once. That’s important in our lives because we work, have families, and other interests that take up our time. As with anything else, having exercise become the sole focus of your life is a bad thing.
If you require a little more structure to your walking, you can follow the Mayo Clinic’s advice and use this handy chart, which tops out at 3,600 steps of brisk walking at 120 steps per minute. Although the chart is geared more for the couch potato beginner than for the regular exerciser, you can still use it to keep track of your daily sessions that add up to 10,000 steps.
It’s still essential to rest occasionally as part of your routine, so don’t neglect resting once a week.
6. Graduate to 10,000 Steps Over Your Baseline
As you progress upward in number of steps, your original baseline might seem like “a walk to the front door” because your body has gotten used to 10,000 steps daily.
To progress, try to shoot for the sum of your original baseline and 10,000 steps. This might require another 30 days. Or it could even take a few few months.
The point here? You want to consistently walk 10,000 steps more than your baseline metric on a daily basis.
That's how you'll lose an average of one pound per week with just walking!
- 2,000 steps is your baseline
- 10,000 extra steps daily = 1 pound of weight loss
- You need to average 12,000 steps a day to lose one pound per week
7. Look for “Extra Steps” Opportunities to Lose Weight By Walking
You’d be amazed at how many steps you can rack up just by doing a few little things each day. There are so many things you can do that you can vary them every day and never get bored. Here are the top 20 ways to get extra steps on a daily basis.
20 Ways to Get Extra Steps Every Day
1. Whenever you have a meeting of some kind, pace while you wait for it to start. This also applies to doctor’s appointments, waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, or even after school when picking up your kids. Even if all you do is pace for two- to three-minutes that adds up to 240 to 360 steps at 120 steps per minute.
2. When you go shopping and aren’t in a hurry, do a lap or two around the furthest aisles. Or, if you prefer, just walk up and down every aisle again, which has the added benefit of letting you check for specials you may have missed the first time around.
3. At work, instead of using the closest restroom, travel one floor up or one floor down. Be sure to use the stairs to do so.
4. Get up to change the channel on the TV or the CD in the player. Adjust your computer-run music player manually instead of using the remote. Walk around the house instead of relying on anything automated. Mark time while doing the dishes by hand instead of using the dishwasher. Be creative around the house.
5. If you’re responsible for driving the kids around to various activities, take a walk or two around the block while the activity is going on. You can still watch a baseball game while walking around the field, for example.
6. If you take mass transit to work, get off a stop or two early. If you’re particularly brave, set out even earlier and walk all the way to work.
7. Start doing yard work yourself instead of hiring someone to do it. Walk around the house after completing each task instead of just going to the next job.
8. If all you need are a couple of items, walk to the grocery store and back instead of driving. Put this one together with idea #2 to get a double boost.
9. Make walking a family outing after dinner. Not only will this create quality bonding time with your family, but it’ll also serve as an example to them of the benefits of walking.
10. Instead of sitting down to talk on the phone, wander around the house, especially up and down stairs.
11. Get your coworkers involved. The next time there’s a meeting, take a walk outside in the nice weather and have the meeting while walking.
12. Avoid escalators and elevators if doing so won’t make you unduly late.
13. If you’re stuck at a desk for work, set your computer’s alarm to go off every two hours. Get up each time it beeps and walk down the hall or around the office. Chances are, you’ll have to talk to someone on these trips anyway, so you’ll not only increase your number of steps but also your productivity.
14. If you’re in a relationship, go out for dinner and then take a romantic walk afterward to start burning off the calories.
15. Get up early and walk to a scenic location to see sunrises or sunsets. Combine this one with No. 14 and make it a picnic instead of going out for dinner.
16. If you go to church, invite a couple of people from the next pew to go for a walk afterward instead of coffee hour.
17. If you like tag sales, walk around the neighborhood instead of driving to find those deals. Even if you can’t carry what you find, if you pay for something, the person will likely hold it for you while you dash home for your vehicle.
18. If you’re an animal lover, go to your local animal shelter and volunteer to walk dogs.
19. If you want to meet a friend for coffee, walk to your favorite place. Invite your friend to go walking with you.
20. If you live near a mall, get up early and go walk laps with the “mall walkers club.”
I’m sure you can think up many of your own methods of boosting your steps. Even if you can’t, walking with someone is always better. Maybe your friend can think up something creative that’ll be a healthy way to get more steps!
8. Harness Your Inner-Competitor
While it may be fun pushing yourself, after a time it might get stale. When this happens, challenge a buddy to a “walk-off.” See if you can “out step” your buddy.
Walking apps like the FitBit allow you to add friends, develop new friendships, and compete with these friends. The app will track both your progress and the progress of your friends and juxtapose the results. The advantage to the app is that you can use it on your phone if you happen to forget your pedometer.
FitBit also runs its own challenges, like:
- Goal Day
- Weekend Warrior
- Daily Showdown
- Workweek Hustle
Moreover, FitBit often runs special fitness day promotion where you can earn special badges by competing with your friends and getting more steps. My advice is to add all your friends (and anyone else you come across) in FitBit, then take part on the above challenges on a weekly basis.
9. Add Intensity to Your Walking Workout Program
Until now, aside from stairs, we’ve only talked about walking on fairly level ground. Hills add a whole new set of possibilities to your calorie burning during your walking workouts.
For example, take our old friend John from my earlier example…
If he walks up a very slight 5-percent incline for 20 minutes, he’ll burn 241 calories instead of 180.
If he walks up a much steeper hill, say a 14-percent incline, for the same 20 minutes, he’ll burn nearly double that: 433 calories.
Of course, going downhill burns less.
If you add hills to your regimen, however, it’d be a good idea to add both uphill and downhill segments. Think of the downhill segments as a reward for fighting through those tough upward inclines.
Also, it’s crucial that you add inclines to your walking regimen gradually. Doing too much too fast might result in injury, which would set you back, possibly for weeks. Use FitBit (or any pedometer that has a similar feature) to monitor your heart rate when increasing the incline at which you walk and report any irregularities to your doctor.
10. Supercharge Your Walking Weight Loss Efforts by Tweaking Your Diet
No one likes to talk about this part. I know that I didn’t, especially when I saw that I shouldn’t have bread, pasta, alcohol, or red meat. I thought, “But those are my food groups!”
All kidding aside, a new study shows that we Americans are really terrible at “moderation.” While “everything in moderation” is a good strategy in theory, too many people still eat too much bad stuff and not enough good stuff on a regular basis.
For example, people during this study were shown a plate of chocolate chip cookies. Fewer than one in 10 people selected the correct number of cookies that would be considered “moderate.” It was the same with a plate of sweet candy.
The researchers in the study also concluded that people who ate a greater diversity of foods actually got fatter than those people who just ate a few healthy choices all the time. What are the things that these researchers and others recommend cutting out of your diet?
Here’s a partial list:
- Red meat
- Trans fat
- Refined sugar
- Refined oil
- Refined grains
To eat clean, people should limit themselves to mostly fruits and vegetables. If you must eat meat, limit it exclusively to fish or chicken. Bake or broil your fish or chicken: Never fry it.
If you must eat bread, crackers, or other carb-heavy items, limit yourself to whole grains. Avoid fruit juices because they are very high in sugar. Always choose a food itself instead of a processed variant.
For example, eat olives instead of using olive oil or peanuts instead of peanut oil. Also, you should eat five or six small meals of roughly 200 calories each during the day.
A good rule of thumb regarding portion size is: If it won’t fit in one hand, don’t eat it.
Another good strategy is to take what you think you want within the guidelines and put a little bit back. That way, you’ll keep portion size under control and be right on track for weight loss.
Something else to consider is you should eat at least something every two or three hours even if you’re not hungry. While this doesn’t necessarily boost metabolism, it does go a long way toward satisfying your body’s need for fuel and prevents those cravings for a giant burger and fries late in the day. You should also drink lots of water
Basically, with a few exceptions, you’ll have to get used to things that used to be called “an acquired taste.” Eating should be to survive and not to enjoy. It’s a hard truth, but what I learned was that looking good and feeling good tasted better than any food. It’s much better to be bored at the dinner table than in life in general.
If 3,500 calories equals a pound, and you burn 900 or more calories a day walking 10,000 steps in two total hours, imagine how much you will lose in the long run if all you ate added up to only 1,200 calories a day.
Now I know that no one is “good” all the time. It’s not in human nature. In fact, I have found that, despite what the study says, if I didn’t splurge very occasionally, I would fail. By very occasionally, I mean less than once a month.
My big weakness is pizza; I could eat a whole one at one sitting. Even though I’m generally a good boy, I will go and get a couple of slices with everything on them that I shouldn’t have every once in a great while. If you do splurge, don’t punish yourself for doing so. After all, you’re only human. Get back on track, though, by following the 10 steps in this tutorial as quickly as possible.
Getting Started with YOUR Walking for Weight Loss Plan
Did you like this tutorial? Does it sound like something you can do?
I know I was scared at first, but when I broke it down and considered each part separately, I found that it was much easier to do each of these things than I first thought. I wanted to get healthier and live longer.
Following these steps has helped me do that. My doctor was very pleased at my last physical examination. I know I was pleased! You should do all these things, too, if you want to live longer and be healthier and happier in the long run.
If you’ve found this tutorial useful, please comment on that and let us know your story.
You might wind up being someone else’s inspiration.
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